Start spreading the news. Former Social Affairs Minister Oľga Keltošová finally gets her wish to go to New York as Slovakia's ambassador to the United Nations.
"The ambassadors are going to be replaced by politicians, who are going to be rewarded for their loyalty and service to the governing parties," said Štefan Markuš, the chairman of the Slovak Helsinki Committee.
Milan Tokár, spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, did not deny that there would be HZDS members among the new ambassadors. But he added that all ambassadors recalled had served a normal three-year term, and would be replaced by the government within a span of several months from March until September.
Mečiar told Slovak Radio on March 2 that many chief diplomats had served overtime due to discord with former President Michal Kováč. Such was the case of Oľga Keltošová, a former Social Affairs Minister appointed Ambassador to the Slovak Permanent Mission at the United Nations in New York, and Arpád Tarnóczy, a HZDS deputy soon to be the Ambassador to Hungary, who were both previously turned down by Kováč.
"We no longer have to discuss this issue with the President," Mečiar said. "The government is now able to decide who will be mandated as an ambassador, and who will be recalled."
Peter Weiss, a deputy for the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, didn't believe that either of the two were qualified for the post. "Slovakia has better candidates than Keltošová and Tarnóczy," he said. "Politicians with greater political standing abroad should be commissioned for such important posts."
Homeward bound. Eva Mítrová, Slovakia's former ambassador to Hungary could not say why she had been recalled.
Milan Resutík, a former Czechoslovak and Slovak ambassador to Romania, said that the personnel changes would increase Slovakia's image as an international pariah and bring diplomats into the orbit of European extremist and nationalist powers. "[Our embassies] will begin to be visited by people to whom we once used to close our door," he said.
Demonstration of power
Former diplomats criticized principally the scale of the change, saying it would do further damage to Slovakia's image abroad. "It is never announced the way the cabinet did it," said Eduard Kukan, a former foreign minister and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. "It is neither fair nor polite to the host countries. After all, ambassadors should be exchanged, not recalled."
"I have had a chance to speak with foreign politicians, and it certainly does not improve Slovakia's reputation," added Weiss.
"It was not a systematic or a conceptual solution, but a forced and embarrassing display of self-stimulation," charged Resutík. "The foetus of this political erection will be a handicapped, deformed diplomacy."
Mečiar, for his part, reiterated that the move was something that is completely normal diplomatic practice. But Resutík countered with the jibe that "it is true that to abnormal people everything abnormal is normal. But at least it is unusual."
Some ambassadors who appeared on the cabinet's recall list simultaneously announced their intentions to end their missions. Eva Mitrová, the Ambassador to Hungary, is returning to veterinary medicine, a field she worked in before entering diplomacy in 1993, when she was named Slovakia's representative at the Council of Europe. "[I have] merely professional reasons for leaving the post," she said.
The Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Ivan Mjartan, is also leaving his post although his name did not appear on the list. Announcing his interest in taking part in the forthcoming election campaign with Mečiar's HZDS, Mjartan told the daily Národná Obroda that "for me, [the HZDS] is the only way to enter political life."
Many questions arose with the post of the Ambassador to the Vatican, where Anton Neuwirth was considered one of Slovakia's most respected and dignified diplomats. Tokár said that the length of his service was the only reason why Neuwirth was scheduled to be the first ambassador to leave office, even though a replacement had not been found. "It is common to have a time gap in the process of replacement," Tokár said.
"The recalling of Mr. Neuwirth could be justified not only by his age but also by the length of his time in office," said Resutík. "But I'm deeply convinced that the true reason is Mečiar's nightmare - the KDH, and the fact that Mr. Neuwirth is the honorary chairman of this movement. And who will now be going to the Vatican? I don't know. Will it be Augustín? Or Marián? Or maybe Húska?," Resutík asked himself, referring to rumors that Augustín Marián Húska, the Parliamentary Vice-Chairman and a man considered the HZDS's chief ideologist, is a hot candidate for the post.